The biggest mistake I see first time entrepreneurs make is that they spend too much money.
They rent an office or retail location, pay big incorporation fees, hire employees, and build an expensive website (just to name a few). And all before they’ve earned their first dollar!
Each month their cash reserves get lower and lower while they struggle to make sales to cover their expenses. Eventually the fledgling business dies with no cash flow, leaving the owner hurt emotionally and financially.
Luckily, it is possible (and actually quite simple) to start up a business without spending a dime. The beauty of using this method is that you can test out a new business idea quickly and with zero risk. And instead of spending time negotiating leases or dealing with employees, you can spend 100% of your time on the most important thing: making that first sale!
The first thing you’ve got to do is get past the idea of spending. Work out of your home or Starbucks on nights and weekends. Instead of hiring employees just get started with what you can do yourself, or ask friends for help. Don’t incorporate just yet, be a sole proprietorship. Don’t hire an expensive graphic artist to make your logo, stick with something simple…you get the idea.
You can spend money on all that stuff once you are bringing in revenue!
Now to actually get started, here are 10 steps you can use to launch a new business, without spending a dime. The first five are logistical. The last five are all free ways to market your business (after all, the most important step is bringing in that first sale!)
- Get an EIN at the IRS website
This one is specific to the USA, but all companies need an Employer Identification Number (EIN). You can apply for one online at the irs.gov in about 5 minutes by clicking here. List yourself as a sole proprietor for now.
- Setup Your Business Financials
Get a free business checking account. This will allow you to keep your business’s money separate and track it (vitally important!). I like Washington Mutual’s free business checking. They will also give you a debit card to track your expenses (never use a credit card) which are currently zero! Then get a Paypal account and link it to your business account so you can accept payments.
- Choose a domain name
The fastest ways to get eyeballs on your new business is the internet these days. Choose a domain name that is a keyword phrase your potential customers might type into a search engine. So if you are offering salsa lessons in Boston, you might choose “SalsaLessonsBoston.com”. The benefit of doing this is that you will most likely end up on the first page of Google results for that keyword phrase within a month or two. This will bring your customesr, and is much better than showing up on the first page for “John Smith’s Salsa Company” or something that no one ever searches for.
- Make a simple website
The fastest way I know of to launch a website is using WordPress (wordpress.com or wordpress.org). If you don’t mind using a subdomain like “mydomain.wordpress.com” it’s free. But even if you want your own domain you can get one with WordPress pre-installed for about $70/year. WordPress comes with over 2500 “themes” to change the look and a great back end interface to edit the pages just like you’re in Microsoft word. LifeHack.org uses WordpPress as do many other popular sites.
- Set Your Prices
Most first time entrepreneurs set their prices too low. People assume low prices mean low quality, and you are worth more. Give away your product or service to the first five customers free if you’d like (it will help built buzz and you can ask them for testimonials), but after that set your price in the top 1/3 of your industry. It’s always easier to lower them than to raise them.
- Start Marketing on CraigsList.com
The next five steps are all free marketing. Start by making regular posts on Craigslist.com. This is a free classified website that attracts millions of viewers. You can get some traffic to your website instantly by making some posts here, and you should continue to repost them every few days.
- Start a Meetup.com Group
Meetup.com helps people with similar interests get together. If a group exists in your area with potential customers, join it. Try to be invited as a guest speaker and offer value to members of the group (don’t pitch them). Just by making friends and helping out you will start to bring in business. If a MeetUp group for your topic doesn’t exist yet, that’s even better. Start one up! You’ll be viewed as the authority in the area.
- Post a Video to YouTube.com
YouTube is a video sharing website, and it gets ridiculous amounts of traffic. It’s actually easier to make a video than you think, and it doesn’t have to be professional at all. You can record one with your digital camera, make a screen recording of your computer (even a powerpoint presentation) with software like Camtasia, or purchase a $20 webcam. Teach or show something useful, and include a link to your site at the end of the video. You will get traffic!
Send an email to all your friends and family (and really everyone on your contact list) telling them about the business you just started. Put a note at the end asking them to forward the note to anyone they know who might be interested (and tell them about the free offer for the first five customers). You’ll not only reach your network, but you’ll reach your network’s network (an exponential difference). You should also get people’s business cards that you meet (far more effective than giving them since few people will write you back) and offer to help them.
- Write an Article and Give it Away!
Even if you aren’t a writer, you can put together a great article. Think of something your potential customers might want to know. Then write a “top ten” list (e.g. the top ten beginner salsa moves) or a “ten step” format (e.g. the then steps to learning salsa basics). Contact the owners of a dozen different websites that your potential customers might visit, and see if they’d like to use your article for free. Include a link to your website at the bottom in the “About the Author” section.
Using this simple format you can launch a new business in about a month, and hopefully make your first sale. But the best part is, even if it doesn’t work, you’ve learned a priceless lesson and risked little or no money.
Don’t spend a single red cent that isn’t absolutely required when launching a new business! See if your idea works first, and then spend AFTER you’ve made your first sale!
Brian Armstrong is the author of Breaking Free, which shows how to quit your job and start your first business! You can download three FREE chapters of the book and sign up for his FREE online course